CT Lawyers Group Honors Embattled Lead Defense Attorney

Lead defense attorney TaShun Bowden-Lewis, who faces possible firing over baseless allegations of racism, among other things, was selected to receive an award for promoting inclusion and diversity by a group funded by some of the state's top law firms, companies and schools selected.

Bowden-Lewis is scheduled to receive the Edwin Archer Randolf Award from the Lawyers Collaborative for Diversity on May 29, eight days after the commission that oversees the Public Defender Service decides whether to fire her or impose less disciplinary sanctions on charges that which span her nearly two years in office.

There were only two responses Wednesday to more than a dozen inquiries about the award from the Lawyers Collaborative and the dozens of lawyers on its executive committee and board. The respondents stated that they were not involved in the selection of the award winner. One said she didn't know about Bowden-Lewis' honor until she was informed about it by the Courant.

The Lawyers Collaborative says its mission is “to increase the representation of lawyers of color in the state of Connecticut and western Massachusetts.” The lawyers affiliated with the group are partners of renowned law firms, law schools, government agencies and corporations. Many of these organizations support the collaboration financially, according to the group's promotional materials.

Bowden-Lewis is one of the group's directors and could not be reached. The award she is set to receive is named for Edwin Archer Randolph, a Yale Law School graduate who was the first black lawyer admitted to the bar in Connecticut in 1880.

“As a tribute to his legacy, this award honors an individual who is committed to the inclusion and advancement of lawyers and other professionals of color,” reads a social media post promoting the award.

Bowden-Lewis' tenure as the top administrator of the state agency that defends the needy has been marked by an ongoing confrontation with the Public Defender Services Commission, which oversees the department and decides hiring, spending and policies. Several department lawyers said much of the disagreement concerns issues of race.

CT agency holds public hearing on embattled state defense attorney

In her 20 months in the position, Bowden-Lewis has clashed with the commission, claiming she has final say on hiring and other matters over which the commission and the department's legal council disagree. During repeated confrontations, she complained that she was being controlled and questioned down to the smallest detail because of her black skin color. On three occasions, she hired a labor lawyer to accuse several commissions of discrimination in letters threatening thinly veiled civil rights lawsuits.

In early 2023, four of the five members of the commission that appointed Bowden-Lewis as Connecticut's first Black chief public defender suddenly resigned when she accused them of discriminating against her during a dispute over the appointment of a department human resources director. The commission appointed a white woman to the position after concluding that Bowden-Lewis' preferred candidate, a black woman, lacked the necessary experience.

The current commission, hastily created after the mass resignations, hired the Hartford law firm Shipman & Goodwin to investigate the personnel dispute and related matters. The company reported that Bowden-Lewis eventually forced the resignation of the commission's chosen head of human resources by making her working conditions intolerable, and then named her preferred candidate for acting head.

Shipman also reported that Bowden-Lewis “has shown a tendency to resort to unfounded accusations of racism simply because someone disagrees” – a conclusion the commission repeatedly reiterated in the list of 16 charges it brought against her .

“She has not increased diversity in the workplace,” Chief Public Defender Joseph Lopez said Wednesday. “It has increased the division in the department and we are now trying to fix it. “It has set the movement back.”

Last year, Bowden-Lewis declined to investigate after the department's director of diversity, equity and inclusion accused Lopez of trying to “act white.”

Some of the law firms and organizations that the Lawyers Collaborative describes as “supporters” have taken a stand against Bowden-Lewis in recent months.

Shipman & Goodwin is identified as a supporter, as is the Division of Public Defender Services, which will vote through the commission later this month on whether to remove her from office. This also applies to the Attorney General's Office, which advises the Commission on the legal procedures it must follow with regard to a main defender.

The Public Defender Services Commission provided Bowden-Lewis with the list of 16 charges against her and she responded. The commission is scheduled to meet on May 21 to decide on disciplinary measures, including possible removal from office.

Anna Harden

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